Scouting with disABILITIES
An anxious, socially awkward, and insecure boy named Dylan became a Tiger Cub 8 years ago. He's always had trouble making and keeping friends, looking people in the face, and controlling his movements. Most of the time Dylan is happiest playing with his Legos and video games or doing an art project. He is also prone to wondering off alone to collect rocks or other things he calls his "treasures" and not feeling included in whatever the other boys are doing. He avoids group activities for fear of not being accepted, is very easily embarrassed or upset; is afraid of heights, the dark, and flying bugs.
Now a 2nd Class Scout with Troop 285, Dylan says, with a big grin on his face, "my favorite thing about Scouting is that I have friends." When you first meet him you might notice two things right off. He's just as smart as other kids and often witty, but he has trouble with social skills. He also tends to have an obsessive focus on one topic and perform the same behaviors over and over. For Dylan, he also LOVES to give hugs. He's come a long way in Scouting and in life. He's come out of his shell in many areas, grows more confident all the time, and loves working on new merit badges. SCOUTING is truly the difference is Dylan's life. In fact, one of his former teachers and now Scout Leaders has said that he has seen more growth and maturity in one year from Dylan than most boys.
In addition to ADHD, Dylan has a syndrome called Asperger's which is technically no longer a diagnosis on it's own, but rather part of a broader category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This group of related mental health issues shares some symptoms, but Asperger's is what doctors call a "high-functioning" type of ASD. This means the symptoms are less severe than other kinds of ASD. This is just one of many, many disabilities that today's youth suffer from, but that should NEVER be a barrier to participating in Scouting.
Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully participating members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. The first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West ...had a disability.
The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disAbilities is that every boy wants to participate fully and be respected like every other member of the Troop. While there are troops composed exclusively of Scouts with disabilities, experience has shown that Scouting works best when such boys are mainstreamed—placed in a regular den/patrol in a regular Pack/Troop. The best guide to working with Scouts who have disabilities is to use good common sense. It’s obvious that a Scout in a wheelchair may have problems fulfilling a hiking requirement, but it might not be so obvious when it comes to the Scout with a learning disability.
To work with these Scouts, begin with the Scout and his parents; seek guidance from them on how best to work with the individual. Seek guidence from the Scout’s teacher, doctor, or physical therapist. Each Scout is unique, so no single plan will work for every Scout. If the Troop is short on personnel, ask the Scout’s parents to help, or assign one or more skilled older Scouts to be of assistance. All of this will take patience, persistence and real effort; but the rewards will be great, for you, the Scout and the members of your Troop.
The Alamo Area Council, BSA is committed to a Unified Focus on Youth and serving ALL YOUTH, no matter their needs or disABILITIES. To better support Units and our Scouts with Special Needs or disAbilities, a new volunteer-lead committee is being formed with Pilar Colon-Martin serving as the Council Staff Advisor. This committee will operate under the Council Advancement Committee.
Throughout the coming year, the Scouting with disAbilities Committee will be organizing training events, Roundtable presentations, and other activities. In the meantime, if you need more information, here are some resources for your review:
For more information about Scouting with disAbilities in the Alamo Area Council or to serve on the committee, please email ScoutswithdisAbilities@AlamoAreaBSA.org.
Yours in Scouting,
Amber Sizer, CNP
Alamo Area Council, BSA